Free Will as a Reason For God Allowing Evil?

(95 Posts)
headinhands Sun 22-Sep-13 09:00:13

I used to be a Christian but I can't remember how the free will argument actually works. As a human, if I could stop someone doing something awful to a child, I would. Furthermore, if I knew someone had witnessed a rape they could have stopped I wouldn't think that person had acted morally. I fully expect people to intervene where they can to prevent bad things happening. If they said 'I don't want to affect their free will' I would find that deeply offensive. How come Christians find this logic acceptable?

Is that last bit quite fair niminy ?
- the love me or I'll hurt your kids bit ?

Explain your thinking there a bit more could you ?

Oh, sorry all, that was to HIH not niminy obviously blush
I got caught out by the new page I think ?

headinhands Sun 22-Sep-13 21:40:17

It's from the 10 commandments in Exodus 20

3“You shall have no other gods before[a] me.

4“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

niminypiminy Sun 22-Sep-13 22:02:22

I feel like we're going down the road more travelled now, and for the next couple of miles we'll have an argument about the composition of the Bible, about approaches to the Pentateuch informed by Biblical scholarship, and about literal understandings of scripture. The word cherry picking will occur. And possibly the word simplistic.

I don't think I have the energy to walk that road tonight. All I would say is that free will and the problem of evil are complex topics with a long history of debate behind them. Disputes around them can't simply be settled by flourishing a (not very relevant, but that's by the bye) proof text quoted out of context.

headinhands Sun 22-Sep-13 22:27:13

That quote was in response to juggling's response. If you personally don't wish to debate it for whatever reason then that's obviously okay.

RoLoh Sun 22-Sep-13 22:45:05

So how does this free will thing stack up against 'God's plan?

This mysterious plan of his that is apparently the answer to all the difficult questions seems at odds with the concept of free will

As Nimmypimmy has said the road is well travelled. I'll just put a quick note of my route which is as someone who does not believe the Bible was written by God but by people who were influenced by their culture and that the Bible shows the way that people have been growing in their understanding of God over thousands of years. This makes me a woolly liberal in some quarters and someone who has been taught good Biblical hermenutics in others.

As part of my job I get to be with people during some of the darkest days of their life. I sat with the families of murder victims and with women who have been raped. I don't need to imagine what the effects of free will are because I can see them.

The philosophy around free will is a bit like quantum mechanics. Those who have studied it at depth can discuss it and still not agree. Those of us who can just about cope with the terms 'determinism' 'critical realism' 'a priori' and 'categorical imperative' can have a pub discussion but don't kid yourself that you are going to really get to grips with it.

What the free will discussion usually brings up in the pub discussion is a lot of anger at God. Why does God let this stuff happen? It's not fair. I want to do whatever I want (free will) but I don't like it when other people do whatever they want and I or mine get hurt.

For what it is worth I think that this view comes from quite a childlike view of God as the big daddy who will make everything right. As people grow up they realise that the world is not like this and get very angry at God for not saving them from their and other people's bad choices. I remember going through this as a teenager. This is entirely normal and described in stages of faith theory Fowlers 3 to 4 and Scott Peck 2 to 3 if you want to look it up.

Stages of Faith Chart

As I sit with the dying or bereaved or hurt my image of God which is gained through Jesus is that God is with us in the suffering.

headinhands Mon 23-Sep-13 13:38:58

I don't tend to worry too much about the concept of free will per se, What I started the thread about was how free will is oft quoted by Christians to excuse god for not acting, when sometimes he does according to many believers. And generally not acting when many flawed humans would if they could. And that's the crux, if I could stop someone doing something awful to a child I would. If I didn't act I would feel awful about myself. If I didn't act and used the excuse that there is a bigger picture beyond the here and now I would expect people to think I was not thinking straight.

I said earlier that I wasn't sure how I previously explained it away but I'm thinking it was a mix of the 'god outside if time' with a big dose of 'if it doesn't bother other Christians, I needn't let it bother me' sort of thinking.

You may think the arguments around the concept of a loving God and free will are complex greenheart and compare it to everyman having a discussion about quantum mechanics, but I don't think it is really that difficult to come to the reasonable conclusion that it is actually illogical.

Yes I think the idea that God is with us in the suffering can be helpful to some people, and is the wisest of the understandings within the christian tradition.
Sincerely I hope it helps you and those you are with in your valuable work.

niminypiminy Mon 23-Sep-13 14:27:58

Headinhands, what you are talking about is not free will at all, it is the problem of evil. I think actually the mention of free will was a bit of a distraction, because your real question is not 'why do humans do bad things?' but 'why does God not intervene to stop them? (and while we're about it why doesn't he stop natural disasters, diseases and other bad things not caused by humans?)'.

In other words, it's not the free will of humans you are worried about, it is the free will of God, no? Why doesn't God stop us doing bad things? As I've already explained several times, if we did not have free will we would be automatons, unable to do anything without being directed to by God. That means we would have no moral capability at all, and no choice. The Matrix plays with these ideas in quite a clever way, if you like that kind of thing.

But for you the problem is God and the existence of evil. Why doesn't God simply arrange the world so that no bad things can happen? But if we have free will (and if the world is the way it is, full of toxins and tectonic plates and weather and insects and viruses), then terrible things will happen. And if we are to have free will we have to be free to do the bad things -- because, as I've said before, you can't have free will conditionally.

The Christian response to this -- as Greenheart said above -- is that in Jesus God shares our pain with us. He willingly underwent stupid, senseless undeserved pain and suffering, just as we do; he willingly went to his death knowing that he would die, really die, as we do. When we suffer, he is there. When we cry, he cries with us. God looked at human life, with all its pain and sorrow, its cruelty and spite and hatred, all its joy and beauty, and came to share it so that he could be with us through it all.

But ultimately Christians believe that at the end of time, whenever or wherever or however that is, all will be made right, and that our suffering will be redeemed, and our death will be mended. That is the hope that is at the centre of Christianity. And in the meantime through Christ, God walks beside us in the vale of tears.

headinhands Mon 23-Sep-13 14:37:35

But nimmy earlier you said god has free will but because he is good he can't/won't do bad. So why couldn't he make us the same. And those viruses and tsunamis, god made them or the right environment for them knowing they would happen.

headinhands Mon 23-Sep-13 14:41:42

My title refers to believers using the notion of free will to answer the problem of evil. I don't have any philosophy quals so I'm probably using layman's terms because they're the labels I use in my thinking.

headinhands Mon 23-Sep-13 14:43:58

Who control's god? How is he able to be good with his free will intact if no one is telling him what to do? Why couldn't he make us the same?

niminypiminy Mon 23-Sep-13 14:45:14

The thing is: we are not God. We have used, and continue to use our free will to turn away from his goodness.

headinhands Mon 23-Sep-13 14:49:44

So why would god give us a different free will to his free will knowing it would cause untold suffering? If he is able to have free will but somehow only do good why would be decide to give us a free will that does allow us to do bad stuff and then hold us accountable while he is considered blameless?

niminypiminy Mon 23-Sep-13 14:51:33

The free will is not different; we are different.

niminypiminy Mon 23-Sep-13 14:52:32

(By the way, I'm all for being angry with God about crap that happens. I reckon he can take it.)

Yes I like that bit HIH "and then hold us accountable while he is considered blameless" - that was something that struck me early on in my questioning of the christian faith ..... God was meant to have made us and yet he is not really accountable for the result!

headinhands Mon 23-Sep-13 16:03:57

How are we different. Why make us different knowing the consequences?

headinhands Mon 23-Sep-13 16:05:05

He made us deliberately different and we are the ones to blame for hurting each other?

StackOverflow Mon 23-Sep-13 16:09:40

I don't actually get the argument above:

- We're made in God's image
- God has free will
- Therefore we have free will

But God is supposed to be inherently good. Where do the negative aspects of human free will come from, then?

Not tring to argue for argument's sake - this just relly doesn't make any sense to me!

Yougotbale Mon 23-Sep-13 16:26:23

Which god are we talking about? Or is it all gods?

niminypiminy Mon 23-Sep-13 16:31:09

Well, let's use a metaphor to explore this.

My child is made out of me and her father, and between us we have given her all her genetic material. Everything she is was made out of us. She got all of her physical being from me as her mother. But the moment she began living in the world she became completely separate from me. She began by taking breaths for herself, and she will, I hope, end up by living entirely independently of me.

She was of one substance with me, but she is different from me. However much I try to plan for her, however much I try to guide her and teach her and show her what is best, she will lead her own life and make her own mistakes. She may do all sorts of things: she may become a drug addict, or choose to work as a prostitute, or share her life with a violent man, or become a career criminal. I can't make her not do those things. I can't make her do the things I want her to. All I can do is love her and hope that my love will be the foundation of a good life.

That is like God. We are his children; we are made in his image, and out of him, but we are not him. We are free, as children are, to live as ourselves, and to make our own mistakes and fuck things up.

And we do make mistakes and fuck things up: again and again and again. We all do. We don't know why -- though we have stories that can help us understand our own nature. The task, however (to paraphrase Marx) is to live in the knowledge that God's love is the foundation of our life.

"He made us deliberately different and we are the ones to blame for hurting each other ?"

Exactly HIH - better really to grow up (spiritually speaking and otherwise), not look for anyone to blame, and start taking real responsibility for our own actions, knowing that we all have feet of clay/ are all very far from perfect. But work with that to the best of our abilities and with tolerance, forgiveness, humility and sometimes humour for the common good.

Yougotbale Mon 23-Sep-13 16:37:51

nim so if you are separate from god when you are in the world. Why do some religious people attribute the good things to god? And why not the bad things?

To use a metaphor, jimmy saville did a lot of good charity work

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